How To Potty Train An Older Dog The Right Way

Old dogs CAN learn new tricks! 🎉

You’ve had your dog for years, and she just started leaving you little surprises — err, wet surprises — on the carpet. Is she regressing or just trying to get your attention?

Whether you just adopted an older dog or the one you’ve had for years needs a bit of a refresher, you might be wondering what it’s like to potty train an adult dog.

The Dodo reached out to Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian working with SpiritDog Training, and Kristi Benson, a dog trainer and owner of Kristi Benson Dog Training, to find out the secrets to potty training an older dog.

Can you potty train an older dog?

It is absolutely possible to potty train an older dog, and Benson said she’s done it so many times with past clients.

“Whether the dog has lived primarily outside before being welcomed into your home, or if they've suffered a house training setback from an event or disease, there is almost certainly [progress] to be made in helping any adult dog to re-learn where to use the bathroom,” Benson told The Dodo. “Clean floors await — it just takes some old-fashioned elbow grease!”

Keep in mind, though, that if your dog usually goes outside and is randomly having accidents now, you may want to head to the vet.

“If your dog has had good toileting habits and is suddenly urinating or defecating inside, there may be a medical reason for this,” Dr. Wigfall told The Dodo. “A vet check is recommended to make sure your dog is physically well before starting training for this problem.”

But if there’s no medical issue, the main thing you’re going to need is a whole lot of love going into this process. “With a little planning, patience and a lot of repetition, you can train your older dog to do a whole range of things, including learning to use the toilet outside,” Dr. Wigfall said.

Things you'll need to potty train your dog

While patience is at the top of the list of things you’ll need to potty train your older dog, here are some other items you’ll find useful:

Yummy treats

In order to train your dog to use the potty correctly, you’ll need a good supply of delicious treats to give to her each time she’s successful in pottying outside.

To get her as excited about doing the right thing as possible, make sure you don’t just use any treats, but whichever ones she goes crazy over.

“You'll also need a way to have these treats easily accessible to remind you to bring them along when you head outside, so I recommend a container by the door or storing the leash in the fridge near your treats to remind you to grab them,” Benson said.

A crate, pen or leash

You'll also need a way to prevent your dog from making errors and having accidents in the house. So similar to how you’d crate a puppy when housetraining, you may also have to crate your older dog. If she’s totally against using a crate, though, you can try a dog pen or even hook her up to a leash that you keep attached to you so that she isn’t roaming free.

“This depends on you and your dog and might include a crate or a leash that attaches to your belt,” Benson said. “You must supervise your dog a lot in the first few important weeks of potty training, so making this easy on yourself is vital!”

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Special chew toys

Since your dog will be leashed inside or crated a lot more than usual during the weeks of potty training, you'll need some long-duration, extra-special chew toys so that she isn’t going out of her mind.

“Get at least a few food toys that you can stuff with delicious treats mixed with kibble and freeze so your dog will be happy in their confined state instead of bored,” Benson said. “It won't last forever, but it is important to prevent all accidents inside during house training.”

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A good cleaning solution

Even though you’re trying to avoid them, accidents do happen. It’s best to be prepared by having a good cleaning solution ready to go. “When cleaning up accidents inside the home, use a cleaner that also has an odor eliminator,” Dr. Wigfall said. “This is because a dog’s sense of smell is incredible, and they can sniff out even a hint of urination or defecation and this can mark the area as a toileting area.”

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Tips on how to potty train an older dog

Here’s what you need to know to successfully potty train your adult dog.

Give her tons of potty breaks

Potty training your older dog is a similar process to training a puppy. “When you first wake up, take your dog out for a potty break,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Stay out there and wait until the business is done. If your dog does go to the toilet, make a big fuss with lots of praise and give a treat.”

During the day, regularly take your dog outside to go to the toilet, ideally every one to two hours, according to Dr. Wigfall. “It’s important to give your dog enough time outside on these breaks,” Dr. Wigfall said. “They need to have a good sniff and walk around before going to the toilet. Around 20 minutes each time is ideal.”

Play with her afterwards

When taking your dog out for a potty break, try to do something fun afterwards inside the home, like cuddling for a little bit or playing.

“Often, people pop their dog back into their pen or crate and go back to work,” Dr. Wigfall said. “This teaches the dog to take as long as possible in the garden to toilet for extra time with you or being outside.”

Help her avoid accidents

One of the most important elements to potty training an older dog is your commitment to making sure she’s set up for success. That means you have to keep her from making any house training errors (which is why a dog crate or leash and hawk-like supervision are so crucial).

“We don't want them to make a single error!” Benson said “This is nice and clear for our dogs to understand instead of allowing a few accidents to happen here and there, which is confusing and will draw things out.”

If your dog does have an accident inside, though, don’t scold her for it. “If your dog goes to the bathroom inside, never push their face in it or shout at your dog,” Dr. Wigfall said. “This is frightening, and they do not understand the reason for the punishment.”

Instead, simply clean it up and move along.

Use positive reinforcement

Another tip is to always use positive reinforcement when training your dog. In short, this means you'll reward your dog for going in the right place rather than scolding her for having an accident. “Once they go, give them a delicious treat,” Benson said. “This lets your dog know that they did the exact right thing!”

Hire a professional

Finally, and most importantly, if you’re struggling to keep your dog from having accidents, get in touch with a positive reinforcement trainer with expertise in house training older dogs. “We are here to help, and we can make a plan that fits well with you, your dog and your home,” Benson said.

While potty training an adult dog might take a little more time, it’s definitely something that you and your pup can accomplish together.

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